Teaming in the Time of COVID-19: Reconfiguration of Workplace Communication Networks
Noshir Contractor, Leslie DeChurch (work done with Brennan Antone, Y. Jasmine Wu, and Carmen Chan at Northwester University, Hui Li, and Yunjie Xu at Fudan University, Shanghai, Michael Johnson at U of Washington, Paul M. Leonardi, U of California Santa Barbara & Jacqueline Ng, Harvard Business School.
COVID-19 forced workplaces to abruptly transition to remote work. In this context, team members must contend with high virtuality, while working under conditions of high stress and organizational crisis. We examine the structure of workplace communication (video conferencing, messaging) at two Chinese companies before the outbreak, during remote work, and after their return to in-person operations. While the volume of collaborations initially dropped and collaborations became more insular with respect to team boundaries, the level of collaboration recovered in volume over time, but was reconfigured into new patterns. For instance, some team members, in particular leaders and high-performing employees, formed new connections during COVID-19 that spanned across team and geographic boundaries.
These network ties were sustained even after they returned to in-person operations.